THE ACCURACY OF GOD’S WORD (9:28)
As we start with this passage, we are going to talk about the accuracy of the Bible. Our first verse has what appears to be an error. So that you can catch it for yourself, let me read Matthew 17:1, which is Matthew’s version of this same passage:
1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, (Matthew 17:1)
Now, see if you can find the problem in Luke 9:28—
Luke 9:28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
Matthew and Mark both say “after six days,” instead of eight days as Luke does here (cf. Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2). A Bible critic might jump on that to prove that there’s a error here, but it’s really very simple to explain: Luke includes the day of Jesus’s sayings and also the day of Jesus’s transfiguration, while Matthew and Mark only count the days in-between.
Matthew and Mark are precise—“after six days.” But notice how Luke states it, “it came to pass about eight days after.” He doesn’t claim any sort of precision, in fact, he claims to be imprecise when he says, “about.”
The Bible is a book written in common language—in the language of everyday people. It’s not a calculus textbook—it’s not precise down to the hundredth decimal place (unless it claims to be in a given verse).
Here’s another example of where people try to claim the Bible contradicts itself, but it’s really just a matter of normal communication instead of scientifically precise language. The passage is in Numbers 3, where all the Levites are numbered. Three separate Levites families are numbered and then the total is given (see how fast you can add them up):
…seven thousand and five hundred. (Numbers 3:22)
…eight thousand and six hundred… (Numbers 3:28)
…six thousand and two hundred. (Numbers 3:34)
What does that add up to? 22,300. What does the Bible say it adds up to?
39 All that were numbered of the Levites…were twenty and two thousand. (Numbers 3:39)
Is the Bible wrong? No. You see, the Bible is fine with rounding off numbers. It’s not wrong to do that. We do it all the time in our language: “About 40 people attended” (but it was 38) or “I’ll be there at a quarter til” (but if it’s 8 minutes to the hour, that’s okay). There is an acceptable imprecision in our language.
Here’s the problem: in our culture we have come to look for scientific precision. For instance, Ivory soap had an advertising claim that it was 99.44 percent pure. The advertising agency knew people in our culture were looking for scientific precision. They thought it would increase sales to sound precise. But the Bible would be happy saying, “Ivory soap is about as pure as you can get.”
None of this means that the Bible is wrong or is in error. The Bible is God’s inspired revelation—it’s completely right and true.
We’re wrong when we try to squeeze it into something it doesn’t claim to be. Read for what it is—God’s communication to us…not God’s calculus textbook. Don’t try to make scientific calculations from it—listen to how God is telling you to live!
Let’s set this to the side for a moment, and look at Luke’s account of Jesus’s transfiguration.
ALONE ON THE MOUNTAIN (9:28)
Luke 9:28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
The next thing we see in this verse is that Jesus singled out Peter, John, and James to join him on a mountain to pray.
The location of this mountain is not given. Mount Tabor is the traditional site, and it’s where, if you were visiting Israel, you would be given the tour guide’s spiel about Jesus’s transfiguration. Mount Hermon is another commonly suggested site.
Jesus went up a mountain to pray, and this seems to have been a habit for him (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12). Going up a mountain was a way to get away from the crowds for a few moments and spend time alone with his Father. It was a place apart from normal life.
His example is instructive for us—it’s good to have places we can get away and pray to our Father. Are you too distracted in your home to pray? The television is always blaring? The Internet is always tempting? The phone is always ringing?
Or maybe all that is shut out, but you notice some dust on the coffee table that needs to be cleaned right away.
Maybe you need to just go for a walk or a drive and pray. Go up the mountain—whatever it might be—and pray. Take time to talk to God and also to listen to what he says in his word, even if it means you have to find a mountain to climb and be alone on.
JESUS IN HIS GLORY (9:29)
Jesus was praying (it must have been for a long time, as the disciples fell asleep), when the most incredible thing happened:
Luke 9:29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.
Matthew and Mark described this change as a transfiguration:
2 And was transfigured (metamorphoō) before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. (Matthew 17:2)
What is going on here? This is the glimpse of the kingdom of God that Jesus, a week before, said that some of the disciples would see:
27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:27)
This is how Christ will look when he comes again:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: (Matthew 25:31)
We need to have glimpses of Jesus’s future glorious return to remind us why we should listen to him now. Don’t let Jesus become an ancient teacher with a few good things to say, but you can drop the rest as unimportant for today.
Jesus is coming back—and whatever the culture is like when he returns, we’ll all listen to him! What he says to you then will depend on whether or not you are really listening to him now.
MOSES, ELIJAH AND THE EXODUS (9:30-31)
Luke 9:30 And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:
Luke 9:31 Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
This had to have been just an incredible sight (we find that the disciples were asleep during most of it!). Can you just imagine seeing Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah? That must have been something.
But why were Moses and Elijah the ones that Jesus talked with? Why them and not someone else?
(1) They were certainly the most famous historical figures in Jewish history. It would be like, for Americans, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Moses, especially, was highly revered by Jews.
(2) They both had unusual departures from this world. God buried Moses’s body in an unknown location (Deuteronomy 34:6). In fact, Jude 9 tells us that the archangel Michael and Satan fought over the body of Moses. And Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).
(3) Both Moses and Elijah had met with God on a mountain (Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19).
(4) They represented the two broad portions of the Old Testament: Moses the law and Elijah the prophets. By their appearing with Jesus, they show that there is continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus came not to destroy the Old Testament, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
The appearance of Moses and Elijah is very exciting for me because it gives us a glimpse of what our glorified resurrection bodies will be like.
It also shows us that true believers who have departed this world are indeed safe in the next world. Moses had been dead 1,500 years and Elijah had been gone for 900 years. Yet they were still alive and well! Even better, the text says that they were “in glory!” We can take comfort that our loved ones in Christ are in a similar situation and they are safe and secure in Heaven.
Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus; they…
Luke 9:31b …spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
This word here, “decease,” is not the normal Greek word for death. It’s a word that is only used three times in the New Testament. Peter uses it in 2 Peter 1:15 to refer to his own decease or death.
What is this Greek word here? You will all know it when I say it: exodos. The one other New Testament usage of this word is Hebrews 11:22. Joseph, on his deathbed, talks about the yet future “departing [exodus] of the children of Israel” from Egypt.
There is no doubt that Luke is making a comparison between the exodus of Israel under Moses from bondage in Egypt and the exodus from bondage to sin and death that Jesus was going to lead with his death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven.
Have you joined the exodus from sin and death? Have you believed in Jesus Christ for your own salvation?
TRYING TO STAY ON THE MOUNTAIN (9:32-33)
Luke 9:32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
Here is a funny sight. The disciples have a hard time staying awake when Jesus is praying. The same thing will happen when Jesus prays the night before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:40).
You heard the saying, “You snooze…you lose.” That’s the case here. It appears that the disciples missed out on most of the conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Wouldn’t you want to kick yourself if you had been one of them?
Luke 9:33 And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.
How did the disciples know that these two individuals with Jesus were Moses and Elijah? Perhaps God enabled them to know intuitively who they were. Wouldn’t that be neat if we have the same ability in Heaven? “Look, isn’t that David and Solomon over there?” But it’s also possible that Moses and Elijah introduced themselves or Jesus introduced them.
The phrase, “it came to pass,” is rather ambiguous about how much time passed. I think it was a very short time, too short for Peter to let end so soon.
“as they departed from [Jesus]”—the Greek here indicates that they were in the process of leaving (Present-Passive-Infinitive). Peter, seeing that they were going, tries to make them stay by offering to build “tabernacles” or shelters for each of them (Who wouldn’t? You have Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all in the same spot, wouldn’t you do anything to make it last as long as possible?).
Have you ever wanted a particular spiritual experience to continue to last? Maybe you have had a long conversation about God with another person that you wish wouldn’t end.
I remember one week at Bible camp that, when it began, I was somewhat eager to get back home. As the week wore on, I got to know my boys more and found myself having great spiritual conversations. At the end of the week, I was dreading the fact that it was over!
Peter wants to keep Moses and Elijah around. He wants Jesus to stay in his transfigured glory. He says, “Master, it is good for us to be here.”
What does Peter mean? He could be saying that he and James and John are available to built shelters so these great men don’t have to get their hands dirty. Or Peter could be seeing this as beneficial spiritual experience for himself. Think of all the questions he could ask Moses and Elijah!
Luke evaluates Peter’s idea of building tent-shelters for the three spiritual heroes as Peter was “not knowing what he said.” Or, in our modern slang, “He was out of his mind” or “He hadn’t a clue what he was saying.” Mark tells us that fear also played a part (Mark 9:6)—Peter was nervous and blabbing whatever came to his mind.
In the end, Moses and Elijah weren’t going to stick around. This was only meant to be a preview of Jesus’s glory. He was on the road to the cross. The mountaintop experience would have to end. It would be the Father who would bring it to a dramatic end.
THE VOICE FROM HEAVEN (9:34-35)
Luke 9:34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.
This cloud is not an ordinary cloud…Matthew 17.5 describes it as a “bright cloud.” We can think back to the days when Moses met God on Mount Sinai—
15 And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount. 16 And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. 18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:15–18; cf. 19:8; 34:5)
This is a cloud that hides the intense glory of God’s presence from the disciples as he speaks.
Luke 9:35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
The Father tells the disciples to listen to his Son, the Messiah. There is yet another connection with Moses, when he spoke a prophecy about the coming Messiah.
15 The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; (Deuteronomy 18:15)
The Father calls us to listen to what the Son says. Is there something in your life that Jesus is trying to speak to you about, but you are not listening? Sometimes we like to think that Jesus has little to say to us in our modern culture. He doesn’t seem to care about the things that we do: politics, sports, and so on.
We like to think that if we keep our nose clean and show up at church on Sunday morning, Jesus doesn’t have anything else to say to us. But have you really asked yourself—what would Jesus say to me about:
- My politics, my worldview, the way I see things?
- The way I disagree with others?
- How I think about others who aren’t like me?
- The bitter feelings I have towards a brother or sister in Christ?
Some people want to think that, as long as they believe in Jesus, he’ll stay out of their personal lives. No…God wants us to listen to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be easier for us if God spoke to us like he did to Peter and the disciples? If he really wants us to listen, wouldn’t an audible voice from Heaven be a sure way to get us to listen?
The answer leads us back to where we started, talking about the accuracy of the Bible.
A MORE SURE WORD (9:36)
Luke 9:36 And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
In Matthew, we find that Jesus commanded them not to say anything:
9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. (Matthew 17:9)
It makes sense if you remember that Jesus only took with him those three disciples…he didn’t want everyone to know about this yet. Later, Peter did tell everyone. Turn to 2 Peter 1—
16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. (2 Peter 1:16–18)
We wish for mountaintop experiences like what Peter, James and John had. We wish that we could be eyewitnesses of his majesty. We wish that we could hear an audible voice from Heaven say, “This is my beloved Son…hear him!” But listen to what Peter says next…
19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: (2 Peter 1:19)
Don’t miss this: Peter says that we have a “more sure word” than what his eyewitness experience was on the mountain! Why, he could have had too many tacos for supper that night and was having heartburn visions! But he didn’t, and we know he didn’t because we have a “more sure word” that tells us so.
Peter and James and John only got to experience what they did on that mountain for a moment. Peter tried to extend it but to no avail. We have a “more sure word” that is eternal.
We have a Bible that tells us about Jesus, about the way of salvation, about what God wants us to be doing. And we can go to this Bible—this “more sure word”—whenever we need and as much as we need. We would do well to “take heed” to it.
The only way to really listen to Jesus is to read the Bible. You can trust it as the “more sure word” direct from God himself. And, if you want to see Jesus’s glory like Peter, John and James did—you can see it in the Bible!